The Electrical Worker online
August 2018

From the Officers
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Diversity is Our Strength

Forty years ago, President Jimmy Carter issued an executive order calling for more women in the building trades. But today, still only about 3 percent of the construction workforce is female. That's bad for women, and it's bad for the industry.

This month, you'll read about Boston Local 103's Susan Eisenberg, a retired journeyman wireman and author, who thinks that number should have risen more by now. That it hasn't means we're losing a lot of smart and capable people, she said, and I couldn't agree more. Missing out on quality potential electricians isn't something we can afford to let happen.

Eisenberg was among the first class of women to enter the trades back in 1978, and she and her sisters proved that women are just as capable as men of doing the work. But increasing the ranks of women, and other underrepresented groups like people of color, takes more than just an executive order. We need to be intentional about recruiting — and retaining — those who have been historically underrepresented in the IBEW.

We're in the midst of a construction shortage. There's more work than there are skilled workers to do it, and a lot of those workers are about to retire. To put it simply, we need more people. And as the head of an international union, I want those people organized. I want them to have a voice on the job and a contract to ensure they're paid what they're worth and treated with dignity and respect.

This union — our union — was founded with the goal of organizing everyone in the electrical industry. Today more than ever, "everyone" means men and women and people of all races and backgrounds. The millennial generation is the most racially diverse in U.S. history, and they accounted for 76 percent of the increase in union membership last year. That's good news. The next generation sees the power in a union.

This year, we held the first meeting of our Diversity and Full Inclusion initiative, which delegates called for at our International Convention in 2016. We're working at the international and local levels to reach beyond our traditional ranks. It's no easy task. It means having sometimes uncomfortable conversations and swimming against the stream. But being in the labor movement has never been easy. Our entire history is one of rising up against powerful forces designed to keep us down. And we don't shy away from something just because it's hard.

There are a lot of qualified people out there who deserve a good wage and benefits, a secure retirement and the safety — and solidarity — that comes with a union. We need to let them know that our doors are open.

The IBEW has been around for more than 125 years, and we plan on being here for another 125, at least. That means recognizing that diversity is a strength, and that we are stronger together.


Also: Cooper: After Janus Read Cooper's Column

Lonnie R. Stephenson

Lonnie R. Stephenson
International President